Ever been to a health store and overwhelmed by a barrage of “protein” products with the promise that you will look ripped… in a week?
Lose weight? Protein!
Bulk up? Protein!
Increased Performance? Protein!
Better Sex? Protein!
And… how do you get more protein? Meat. Whey. Supplements.
However, the ironic thing is that my energy level and athletic performance have improved after giving up meat a few years ago, dairy and eggs last year.
So in short, I haven’t touched meat (for over 5 years) and whey (this includes bars like ThinkThin which contains whey) for over a year.
The diet that I promote and that I personally follow consists of a whole-foods plant-based diet primarily of vegetables (starchy and non-starchy ones), fruit, occasional whole grains, some legumes, and fat in the form of sprouted seeds, nuts and avocados
And I want to use today’s article to explain my stance, and outline the following:
- Why it is best to Incorporate Plant Proteins in our diet
- Why We Can Have Too Much Protein vs. Lack of Protein
- The Downsides of having too much animal protein (yes, and this will make you sag)
- The best source of Post-Workout Protein while increasing vitality and improving skin health
Let’s jump right into it:
Why do we need protein?
Protein is a macro-nutrient which makes up most of the weight of food and consists of compounds of 20 amino acids. Since protein wear out on a regular basis, we must replenish our protein source by consuming foods that contain protein. We also need proteins for the body to create enzymes to release energy, aid digestion and help our bodies fight infection. Our body can manufacture most of the 20 amino acids, but we can only obtain eight of the essential amino acids required for life only from foods we consume.
How much protein do we really need?
The minimum amount of protein needed to fulfill protein needs (RDA) is equal to 0.8 g of protein per kg body weight per day. The average mixed western diet provides c. 1-2 times the RDA for protein (gasp!), though protein needs change according to individuals. For instance, growing children, pregnant and lactating women, the elderly, and anyone undergoing severe stress may need more protein than others.
Not All Proteins are Alike…
High-quality protein foods refers to foods which provide the right kinds and amounts of amino acids to make new proteins.
Other than human flesh which best matches our amino acid profile (yes…just in case you wonder what to eat when the day of apocalypse arrives), proteins from other animals such as milk and eggs represent the best amino acid matches for our proteins and are thus considered high quality.
Plants are considered lower quality protein because they may be lacking in one or more of the essential amino acids, but as a group plants do contain all of the amino acids. This is why eating a variety of plant foods is very important if you are vegetarian or vegan.
Plant Protein versus Animal Protein
But high quality protein doesn’t mean necessarily mean that it is necessarily healthier for you.
Too Much Animal Protein Linked to Increased Tumor Development?
According to the book The China Study, plant protein allows for slow but steady synthesis of new proteins and is arguably a healthier form of protein versus animal protein. Indian researchers showed that decreasing protein (casein) intake from the usual level of consumption of 20% to 5% completely prevented this very powerful carcinogen, aflatoxin, from causing cancer in rats. And the book also stated that “nutrients from animal-based foods increased tumor development while nutrients from plan-based foods decreased tumor development.”
Avoid Animal Proteins?
There are different philosophies on this topic which I don’t want to get into. In my personal experience, a plant-based diet works best for me. I think you should tailor your diet according to your body type.
According to Food and Healing, “there are people who cannot follow a vegetarian way of eating without becoming weak, getting depressed, losing energy, weight, hair, the “creative edge,” and feeling generally deprived.
There are two theories:
1. If you have strong adrenals, you may do well on a vegetarian, no-sugar diet. If you have strong pituitary-gland activity, you may need animal protein.
2. If you have an active endocrine system, a high rate of metabolism, a lean body, and a liking for exercise, you may do well with large amounts of vegetables and fruits. If you have a weaker endocrine systems, a slow metabolic rate, and the tendency to put on weight, you may do better with a fair amount of animal protein.
Meat and Increased Sugar Cravings?
With the above being said, I have to add that there is a chance that you’re likely to consume more sugar by eating meat given the law of balance – meat is contractive and sugar is expansive. If you’ve noticed, the pairing of meat and potatoes is quite common.
According to Food and Healing, “the naked carbohydrate of white sugar dovetails perfectly with the carbohydrate-free protein of meat.” In other words, if you eat meat (contractive), your sugar cravings (expansive) may increase, and vice versa. This is fine if you eat both meat and sugar in moderation, but trouble comes when the level of sugar intake exceeds than that needed to balance meat.
Given how addictive sugar can be, especially since “researchers have found that food and drinks sweetened with the simple sugar fructose do not trigger the same sense of fullness as other foods with similar calories“, it is likely that your meat may increase your sugar intake unless you have lots of self discipline….
Why Too Much Meat Accelerates Aging
Your body’s pH level usually functions in between 7.35 – 7.45. If your pH level is < 7.35, you will be diagnosed with acidosis. On the other hand, if your pH level is above 7.45, you will be dealing with alkalosis.
Meat is highly acidic. For instance, beef normally reaches lowest pH value of 5.4 – 5.7 18-24 hours post-slaughter. Unless you eat sufficient alkalizing food to balance your acidic level, your body will be highly acidic, especially given the meat and sugar connection we discussed earlier – Both meat and sugar are acidic to your body.
When your body is too acidic, your body will be in a state of “demineralization” which refers to the lack of major minerals. This is why research has shown that a high ratio of dietary animal to vegetable protein increases the rate of bone loss and the risk of fracture in postmenopausal women. This may apply to men too given a Norwegian study.
Given the acidic nature of animal protein, it is best to incorporate more plant-based protein, which is alkalizing, in your diet.
Why Plant Protein Reverses Aging and Why You Can Get All Your Amino Acids from Plant Sources
Protein is found in many plant foods and virtually no protein in animal-based foods is not better provided by plants-based foods. While it is true that a lot of plant proteins are relatively low in at least one of the essential amino acids, you can get all your amino acids from a variety of plant foods in different meals throughout the day.
Adding to that, obtaining protein from plant foods give you extra benefit of:
- Antioxidants, fiber, minerals. Animal foods are almost devoid of these nutrients*
- Less Fat. Animal foods consist of much more fat and cholesterol which are not present in plants. If you look at seeds and nuts, they contain healthier fats, fibre, and antioxidants which meat don’t have
*People worry that they can’t get sufficient vitamin B12 from vegetarian sources. But when the vegetarian diet is based on whole grains and beans, B12 is supplied in sufficient amounts. Sources include oatmeal, sea vegetables, soybean, tempeh, and chia seeds, which are also high in protein!
Verdict: Plant vs. Animal Protein?
I’m an advocate of plant protein because I’ve had better skin health, lost 2 dress sizes and increased energy level by incorporating high quality plant protein in almost every meal and abstaining from red meat, pork and poultry.
Also, another study has concluded that “red meat consumption is associated with an increased risk of total, CVD, and cancer mortality and substitution of other healthy protein sources for red meat is associated with a lower mortality risk” – not a great sign to eat meat if you’re going by research conclusions.
While you can remove the fat and cholesterol from animal food (i.e. lean cuts of meat), you can’t remove animal protein from the animal. Given studies on the link between animal protein and health hazards, as well as the greenhouse effect from meat, I think I’m better off with my veggies and fruit.
If you consume animal protein, be aware of your footprint, and go for grass fed meat, which is better for your health. And, try to incorporate as much plant-based protein as you can to balance your pH level. If you’re accustomed to eating meat and dairy, you can start with small steps such as eating less meat per meal and adding more plant-based protein, which we will discuss in our later series.
In the next series, we will be exploring why you’re more likely to have excessive protein intake vs. protein deficiency, diving deeper into the downsides of having too much animal protein, and looking at the best source of post-workout protein for you.